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Most Significant Issues Affecting Maui in 2011

From the Japan tsunami to the Maui County plastic bag ban—a final reflection on the events that defined the past year.

December 22, 2011
Sarah Ruppenthal , The Maui Weekly

As we usher in 2012, the Maui Weekly looks back at the most talked-about, headline-grabbing news stories of the past year in the last two issues of 2011.

Getting a Handle on Plastic Bags

There's a very good chance that you will rarely-if not, ever-hear the question, "Paper or plastic?" while shopping on the Valley Isle. On Jan. 11, 2011, Maui County sacked disposable, non-biodegradable plastic bags with the passage of Ordinance No. 3587. The first of its kind in the State of Hawai'i, the ordinance was designed "to preserve the health, safety, welfare and scenic and natural beauty of the County of Maui [and] encourage the use of environmentally preferable alternatives to plastic bags, such as recyclable paper bags or reusable bags." Maui County set the stage for other counties to fold on plastic bags, as Kaua'i and Hawai'i Island soon followed suit.

Article Photos

Barely two weeks after a severe winter storm blasted the Valley Isle in January 2011, another bout of turbulent weather left many areas of the island under water after a storm on Jan. 13, including Kalepolepo Park in Kihei, seen here.
Photo: Bob Richardson

The plastic bag ban prohibits retailers countywide from providing (non-biodegradable) plastic bags at the point of sale. Instead, they must now offer paper bags in place of their plastic counterparts-but for the most part, a new (and somewhat fashionable) trend has emerged: Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB). The county is taking the ban seriously, vigorously enforcing the ordinance and doling out fines of up to of $500 per violation. For the most part, the departure from plastic was well received, as many could see the logic of the ban. However, there were some who did not make a smooth adjustment, and a handful of retailers noted that the switch was a costly one. Love it or hate it, if you take a drive on Omaopio Road (which borders the Central Maui Landfill in Pu'unene), you'll see the effects of the ban. The 30-foot litter fence-which was once notoriously clogged with countless airborne plastic bags-is virtually litter-free today. Many believe the fence speaks for itself, and the proof is in the bag, so to speak.


When It Rained, It Poured

In January 2011, barely two weeks after a severe winter storm blasted the Valley Isle, another bout of turbulent weather left many areas of the island under water. Heavy rains drenched the island, causing a stream of power outages, road closures, flooding-and perhaps the worst, a drinking water advisory. Many say that this year's storm season-and year-round weather patterns, for that matter-were worse than usual, which begs the obvious question: how do we ensure we are primed and ready for the next round of bad weather? Some community groups, such as the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, aren't wasting any time preparing for the inevitable. The Kokua Ka'Ono'Ulu Project is an initiative that takes a "mountain to the sea approach," and explores potential solutions to minimize flooding in South Maui while educating residents about the ways they can mitigate the effects of severe weather.

For more information about the project, visit



A Day of Tragedy

It's safe to say that March 11, 2011, is a day that no one will forget. The searing images of the devastation in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the coastlines of Japan will likely haunt us all for a lifetime. Although the disaster took place thousands of miles away, Valley Isle residents braced themselves for impact, as tsunami waves coursed toward the Hawaiian Islands. Fortunately, the damage was minimal-but for many residents, the emotional wounds were beyond repair, as they watched helplessly as Japan slowly began to pick up the pieces of its own broken heart.

In a testament to the generous and compassionate nature of our community, an outpouring of support was extended to the Aloha Initiative, a Maui-based, nonprofit program that has-and continues to-provide comfort and friendship to earthquake and tsunami survivors. Offering both emotional and financial support, the organization " provides citizens of Japan who have been displaced by the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis with a warm and welcome home. 'Aloha' means affection, love, peace, compassion and mercy, the feelings and emotions we want to convey to the people of Japan." If there is any silver lining to emerge from this tragedy, it is that we have learned that it is necessary to take precautions and act quickly in the event such a disaster happens again.

For more information about the Aloha Initiative or to find out how to help, visit



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